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Recently, I got an e-mail from one of the boys who made that trip with me. He wrote to tell me:

“I've just graduated from NYU. And I realize it was all thanks to you. I went to a school I wanted to go to in a city I really love, all because you showed me I could. If we hadn't made that trip years ago, I would have been too nervous to move to Manhattan to go to college all on my own. But you helped me to see there was nothing to be afraid of...”

That's my goal in writing to you now. My hope is that four or five years from now, maybe sooner, I'll get e-mails from some of you reading this thanking me for showing you that, despite what you may have heard or read, Medellin, Colombia, qualifies as one of the best places in the world to restart your life.

I tell you with confidence that you can do it, because I've done it. I've been living here full-time for two years. This city has allowed me to reinvent my life completely.

I first came to Medellin four years ago with a friend who asked me if I wanted to tag along with him and his wife who were coming here for vacation. At the time, I thought, Colombia?! Why would anyone want to go to Colombia?

But I came along. The trip was one of the most important turning points of my life.

Back in Pittsburgh, I'm a landscape architect. I have a firm that works with the rich and famous...professional athletes, big-deal CEOs, etc. I'm not walking away from that. I'm in touch with my clients up there all the time. I'm still running my business.

But, at the same time, I'm reinventing my life. That first trip to Medellin two years ago, I fell in love, both with the city and with one of its daughters, a beautiful woman named Michelle. We're going to be married soon. Then I'll have five children--my two in the States and her three here. Talk about a life change.

But I've never felt better. I've never been happier. Never felt younger. Old friends back in Pittsburgh, when they see me, tell me I look better than I have in two decades.

This is a beautiful city. And, yes, it's safe. I'm getting to know it at a very local level. I'm becoming part of a local Colombian family. I'm being welcomed and supported.

At a time when I could be thinking about winding down my life, I'm restarting it. I feel very, very fortunate to have discovered this special city, and I want you to know that, if you, like me, decide you'd like to make this city your home, you can do it.

You can do it.

Ed Bayer

P.S. From Kathleen Peddicord:

Retire to Colombia? Why would I be recommending that an average retiree consider launching his new life in retirement in Medellin, Colombia, of all places? What am I...crazy?

In fact, I've been called crazy (and worse) for years...for decades. People called me crazy when I first recommended Costa Rica as a retirement haven nearly 30 years ago. They called me crazy when I recommended Belize a few years later...then Roatan, Honduras...Ecuador...Panama...

Now those destinations are recognized and appreciated as the world's top retirement havens and home, each one, to many thousands of expat retirees who've taken my crazy advice over the years.

I don't mind being called crazy. To me, crazy is just another word for forward-thinking. Eventually, the rest of the world will catch they have in Belize, Ecuador, Panama, etc.

Meantime, I'll keep beating this drum. Medellin, Colombia, qualifies as one of the most appealing, most comfortable, most interesting, and most affordable places in the world to think about reinventing your life. Don't take my word for it (remember...I'm crazy). Come on down to Medellin to take a look for yourself.

I'll meet you there. Details are here.

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Arriving in Medellin has the opposite physical effects. Your heart slows a bit, your mind settles.

Unlike Panama City, Medellin's cityscape isn't all high-rise condo towers and features nary a single building of glass or steel. From any height (the windows of one of the city's luxury penthouse apartments for example, or the top of one of the surrounding hills), Medellin appears a sea of red clay tiles and red brick buildings interspersed regularly by patches of foliage and flowers. The effect, again, is calming, peaceful.

You can learn a lot about a place both from and by its taxi drivers. They're a top source of getting-to-know-a-city information and insights, of course, but they're also a barometer of the mood of a place. In Panama City, taxi drivers are in a hurry. They honk their horns constantly. They weave in and out of traffic, from lane to lane, pushing for constant progress. They can't abide sitting still or even slowing down. They run traffic lights and ignore “Stop” signs. They also tend to be unhelpful, even rude. A Panamanian friend describes them as “among the least appealing people on earth.” I can think of a handful of exceptions, but, in general, I'd agree with my friend.

In Medellin, the taxi drivers, like their city, are gentler and calmer, happy to stop to offer directions or even to chat. In Medellin, you rarely hear the honking of a car horn, not by a taxi driver and not by anyone else either. It's also worth noting that, in Medellin, taxis are not only ever-present, but also always painted yellow and metered, unlike in many of the places where we recommend you spend time. Again, orderly...genteel.

Medellin is impressively green, with trees, plants, and small gardens everywhere, and remarkably clean. In the central neighborhoods, you see no litter. The metro, a point of pride for the local population, is spotless and like new. At every station and in every train we've ever ridden, I've looked for but have been unable to find even a cigarette butt or piece of gum on the ground.

Panama is working hard to clean up and green up its capital city. The long stretch of parkland along the bay known as the Cinta Costera has dramatically changed the face of Panama City for the better (and is being expanded). Still, while one might describe Medellin as genteel, an appropriate adjective for Panama City might be gritty.

Walking around Medellin, especially outside the central tourist zone, Lief and I feel like an anomaly. This is less and less true, as Medellin becomes more discovered by expats and retirees. However, in Panama City, Americans are everywhere. We have been part of the landscape in this city for a hundred years.

From a cost of living perspective, I'd put these two cities on par...depending on the relative strength of the Colombian peso. Right now, the U.S. dollar is at the upper end of the range it's traded in versus the peso over the past five years. We watch this, looking for opportunities to change dollars into pesos to cover carrying costs for our apartment in Medellin. (Right now, for example, would be a good time to make a dollar-peso exchange if that's an agenda for you.)

In Panama, where US$1 is US$1, this isn't an issue. The American in Panama has no exchange-rate risk to worry about. If you intend to retire on an income fixed in dollars, this can be an important plus.

Both markets offer interesting real estate investment opportunities. The real estate market in Panama City, after settling post-2008, has begun to appreciate again. Today, you can buy the best this market has to offer for US$1,500 to US$2,200 per square meter. A year from now, this will not be the case. Central Panama City values are going to move up steadily from here for the next few years.

In Medellin, meantime, you can buy in El Poblado, considered the best address in the city, for as little as US$1,200 per square meter (resale). In less central, more local neighborhoods, you can buy for less. The real estate market in Medellin reminds me of the market in Panama City when we first began paying attention to it about a dozen years ago.

Panama is one of the world's most welcoming countries when it comes to establishing residency. In Panama, the would-be expat, retiree, or entrepreneur has more than a dozen options for how to establish full-time residency, including the new “Friends of Panama” visa option, which amounts not only to the most user-friendly, turn-key residency option in the world today but also the most user-friendly, turn-key residency option in the history of residency options. Plus, it can lead to a work permit, which is a big deal.

Colombia, too, though, offers good foreign residency options, including one for pensioners and another for investors. The minimum investment requirement in each case can be less than for comparable options in Panama.

One practical matter that is not as straightforward in Colombia as it is in Panama is opening a bank account. It's not possible as a foreigner to open a local bank account in Colombia unless you have a personal introduction to the bank. If someone tells you otherwise, they're speaking optimistically and not from real-world experience.

The alternative is to open an account with what's called a “fiduciary,” the local equivalent of Charles Schwab. Unlike opening a bank account, this is relatively straightforward and a reasonable strategy for dealing with local bills. The downside is that transaction fees can be high.

The other downside to Medellin compared with Panama City is that few in Medellin speak English, whereas, in Panama City, it's possible to get by speaking no Spanish.

In addition, Medellin (again, very unlike Panama) is not a tax haven, and taxes are high. Living here, your tax burden could increase, depending on your nationality, where you hold legal residency, and where your income comes from. The country even imposes a wealth tax (after five years of residency). Note, though, that moving to Colombia with only retirement income should be a tax-neutral event. Colombia, like most countries, doesn't tax foreign retirement income.

Unlike Panama, Colombia imposes exchange controls. These are manageable if you plan and execute any investment in the country carefully and correctly. But, again, they're not an issue at all in Panama.

Bottom line, here's how I'd break all this down...

Panama City Versus Medellin:

Cost Of Living: It's a tie, more or less, depending on the relative strength of the Colombian peso...

Cost Of Real Estate: As much as 50% less expensive in Medellin...

Climate: Way more comfortable in Medellin...

Quality Of Life: This is completely subjective and impossible to pin down. Nevertheless, I'll go out on a limb and say that the overall quality of life is more appealing in Medellin than in Panama City...

Ease Of Residency: Panama is one of the easiest places in the world for a foreigner to establish full-time legal residency, especially if he comes from one of the countries included in the new “Friends of Panama” visa program. However, Colombia is also a very straightforward option in this regard. Certainly, I wouldn't take Colombia off my list for fear of a complicated struggle related to becoming a resident...

Ease Of Banking And Doing Business: Here, Panama wins hands down, with its international banking industry (the exchange-of-information treaty the country signed with the United States in 2010 notwithstanding); its lack of any exchange controls; the absence in this market of any currency exchange risk (as Panama uses the U.S. dollar as its currency); and its greater prevalence of English-language speakers...

Infrastructure And Accessibility: Another tie...

Taxes: Panama is the screaming champion on this score, a true tax haven, while Colombia qualifies as a high-tax jurisdiction, with, for example, a corporate tax rate as high as 33%. Again, though, if you're a retiree making a move with retirement income, you probably don't have to care about this...

Health Care: Top notch on an international scale in both cities...

Ease Of Settling In: Panama City is a kind of halfway house for expats, a very easy and comfortable first step overseas. Medellin is more an emerging expat destination, though it is more discovered and therefore easier to navigate as an expat or foreign retiree all the time...

Which city might be better for you?

I couldn't say. As I remind you often, it depends on your personal circumstances, your priorities, and your preferences. What is your current situation and what kind of experience are you looking for?

I can tell you that we've decided not to try to choose but, instead, have worked over the past few years to incorporate Medellin into our long-term retire-overseas plan.

As a friend in Medellin, another expat who also divides his time between that city and Panama City, put it recently: “Do business in Panama but live in Medellin. That's the ticket...”

Lief and I would agree.

Kathleen Peddicord

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“Then,” Kaitlin continued, “just a couple of weeks ago, they heard about our VIP Panama Circle group. As I said, they already had their trip to Panama planned, but, when they read about our personalized hand-holding service, they decided it was exactly what they needed to make sure their administration trip went as smoothly and as efficiently as possible.

“They signed up for the Panama Circle. Then our Panama Circle Liaison, Marion de Mena, got in touch with them to ask how we could be of help. They told her about their planned visit to Panama and explained that they hadn't yet figured out which lawyers or banks to meet with.

“Marion sent them our list of recommendations. They made their choices, and Marion set up appointments. At the same time, Marion asked the couple if they were planning to attend our upcoming Panama conference, as the dates for their trip to Panama overlapped with the conference dates...and, as Panama Circle members, they could attend free.

“The couple replied to say they didn't even know the conference was taking place. Was it too late to sign up, they wanted to know?

“Of course not, Marion told them. We've always got seats in the room for Panama Circle members. Marion got them registered for the event...and now, today, here they are! They're a very nice couple, and they're having a great time,” Kaitlin added.

Then this from Kaitlin via Skype on Friday:

“I just spoke with a man who explained that he's here in Panama this week as a first stop. From here, he's going on to Belize and Colombia to compare and make up his mind.

“He told me that he wants Florida to be his hub, because from there he can hop quick direct flights to all the countries he's interested in. He's right now considering his choices in this part of the world, but he's also planning to spend time in Europe and Asia. Plus he's keeping his 'little Florida place,' as he put it and will spend some time there each year, too.

“'I think Panama is for me,' he said, but he doesn't want to be in the city. He's interested in the interior of the country and will be exploring there after the conference.

“He said that he thinks Belize might be too extreme of a relaxation destination for him. He still works two jobs and wants to remain active. 'I don't want to be lazing around in a hammock and I don't want to live in that kind of an atmosphere either,' he told me. He wants activity but also a place that is a little removed from the rat race. I think he's right. Panama could be perfect for him...”

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. As much as I've appreciated the e-mails and instant messages keeping me connected with everything going on at the conference this week, it isn't the same as having been there. I've missed out on updates on real estate markets and values across the country, on any changes in residency opportunities, on all the real-life expat stories, on insights into the Panama City rental market right now, on the stories and photos of the adventure guide we invited...

I'm looking forward to listening to it all, though, as soon as the recordings of each presentation have been edited. Every speaker was recorded...all 31 of them. We'll bundle the set of recordings with all the PowerPoint support material (including photos) to create our new Live and Invest in Panama Home Conference Kit, which will be available for fulfillment within the next two weeks.

You can reserve your copy now pre-release and save more than 50% off the price. Go here to do that now.

As we've been reporting, we believe 2014 will be a game-changing year in this country. Unlike many other countries in the world and in the region, Panama did not crash post-2008, neither its economy nor its property markets. It chugged on (as we predicted it would), growing, prospering, building, improving. Now it's gearing up for another run. Important infrastructure works are coming online this year (including the new Panama City metro and Phase 3 of the city-center Cinta Costera thoroughfare). Plus, the completion of the Panama Canal expansion project is just around the corner.

Property values softened in Panama starting in 2008 but stabilized by 2011 and have begun again to appreciate. The rate of appreciation will quicken this year. Right now, it's still possible to buy a water-view condo along Avenida Balboa, one of the city's best addresses, for as little as US$2,000 per square meter. This will not be the case a year from now.

This is one important topic of conversation at this week's conference. Our key property advisors are convened with Lief starting today over in the meeting rooms of the Veneto Hotel to discuss the best current property buys, how to shop for a rental investment, how to maximize net rental yield, where to buy for appreciation, where to go for local financing, and where to look for the best long-term store of value, both in Panama City and in other key local markets across the country.

Also on the program is a detailed economic update from an expert I trust with long experience both in the region and in Panama specifically. His report, I know, is enthusiastically positive. Unfortunately, as I said, though, I won't be there to hear all the details for myself.

That's why I've asked my daughter Kaitlin to act as my eyes and ears on the ground. Kaitlin will be sending me updates over the coming few days, which I'll relay to you in real time.

As I write, our recommended legal eagle in this country, Rainelda Mata-Kelly, is on stage, Kaitlin reports (via Skype), telling the group in detail about all 14 of Panama's residency options, including the new and ground-breaking Specific Countries visa program this country premiered last year.

I'm not there to hear firsthand...and maybe you're not we'll stand by for updates from Kaitlin and others on the scene. They've promised to send photos, too.

Then, after the event has concluded, I'll look forward to listening to the recordings of these proceedings for even greater detail and insight. Every speaker's presentation is being recorded, in full, including all live Q&A. We'll bundle these recordings, once edited, to create our all-new Live and Invest in Panama Home Conference Kit. If you'd like, you can arrange to receive this package of real-time Panama resources, too, once it's available. Reserve your copy now to avail of the 50% pre-release discount.

Kathleen Peddicord

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It's a country of freedom-seekers. The pirates came to ply their pirate trading out of view. The Mennonites came from Germany and the Netherlands so they could be Mennonites without anyone bothering them. The British came so they could bank in private. And the folks from the surrounding countries who've sought out Belize over the past few decades typically have made their way across this country's borders in search of safety.

Today, now, a new population of freedom-seekers is finding its way to these shores.

Belize is a nation of independent thinkers and doers, a country where you make your own way and where, while you're doing it, no one is making any attempt to thwart your efforts.

Including the Belizean government. This is a poor country. The government doesn't have enough money to get up to any real trouble. And, if they tried, the Belizeans wouldn't allow it. The focus here is on very local-level government—addressing the crime problems in certain neighborhoods of Belize City, for example, or trying to dissuade the Guatemalan banditos who occasionally wander over into Belize in search of a couple of good horses to steal.

Arriving in Belize, stepping off the plane, and walking across the tarmac to the one-room arrivals hall of the airport, you have a sense of leaving the rest of the world behind. Belize and her people operate according to their own rules and mind their own business. The troubles, uncertainties, and worries that seem so all-consuming Stateside and elsewhere in the world right now fade away here. You're faced with a land that remains a frontier, undeveloped and therefore oozing potential.

Remember, this is also a tax haven, thanks to the British, a place where your financial affairs are your own.

Belize is one more thing—one of the most user-friendly places in the world to establish foreign residency. You don't have to be physically present year-round in the country to qualify for permanent residency and to take advantage of the tax benefits of that status. Come to visit for as few as four weeks a year, and you're good.

Belize, a country I visited for the first time more than 25 years ago, is one of my favorite places on earth.

Kathleen Peddicord

P.S. By all accounts, the Live and Invest In Belize Conference last week was a huge success. Over three days your fellow readers met with friends, contacts, advisors, expats, and business resources I've met over the past two-and-a-half decades spending time and doing business in this country. Together, they introduced attendees to the charms, hassles, benefits, and advantages of life in this beguiling country.

Every presentation of the entire program (30 in total) was recorded. Those recordings are being edited now to create our all-new Live and Invest in Belize Home Conference Kit.

While the editing process continues, you have a window of opportunity to purchase this comprehensive and fully up-to-date Belize resource at a discount of more than 50% off the regular price. However, you must act now. This pre-release invitation is available for a limited-time only, while the recordings are being edited.

Go here now for details.

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Kathleen Peddicord

Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.

Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.

Read more here.


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